John Bible Study (That You May Believe)

John 7:20-39, Out Of Your Heart Will Flow Rivers of Living Water


The seventh chapter of John’s gospel has continued to show the pattern of unbelief toward Jesus. In the last lesson we saw that true belief seeks the will of God. Your will is to do God’s will. This change of the will leads to obedience. In verse 19 Jesus proves that his will is to do the Father’s will because he seeks God’s glory and does what God says. The Jews have the Law of Moses but they do not keep the Law. In particular, he speaks to their violation of the Law of Moses by declaring that they want to kill an innocent person. Jesus declares that he knows they are trying to kill him. This desire all the more confirms not only their unbelief but also that they are seeking their own glory rather than desiring the glory of the Father.

Rejecting The Truth (7:19-24)

Rather than listening to Jesus and considering how his divine knowledge is able to know their hearts and their thoughts, they simply deflect what Jesus says. They tell Jesus that he is paranoid and crazy. To say that someone had a demon was the way to say that you did not take the person seriously. Now we are reminded why they were trying to kill him. We saw it back in John 5:16 when Jesus healed an invalid at the pool on the Sabbath. Jesus reminds them of this in verse 21. “I did one work, and you all marvel at it.” Jesus seems to be referencing this Sabbath miracle that he did in Jerusalem last time he was there. So Jesus will try yet again to break through their dark, stubborn hearts.

Moses gave the command for circumcision. Interestingly, Jesus reminds them that the circumcision law came before Moses. But the law of Moses commanded that boys be circumcised on the eighth day. What were they supposed to do if the eighth day fell on the Sabbath? But they would circumcise on the Sabbath day and it was not considered the breaking of the Sabbath law. They circumcised so that the Law would not be broken.  So how can they be angry with Jesus for healing on the Sabbath? If circumcision perfected the body in keeping the Law, then healing the whole body also perfects one for keeping the Law. Obviously the Sabbath was not to prevent people for doing the will of God.

Verse 24 gives the important conclusion to this teaching. “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” Notice that Jesus does not say that a person should never judge. People love to quote Jesus’ words out of context, “Do not judge.” But what Jesus taught there is the same that he is teaching here. Do not judge others based on appearances or based on human standards. Judgments must be made on the basis of God’s word. The people are judging by misconceptions and drawing erroneous conclusions. They need a more authentic basis for their judgments. True faith does not reject the truth. True believers do not use superficial, physical standards as the basis for judgment. We do not care about traditions, rules, and perceptions. We only care about what the word of God says. The teachings of Jesus are the only standard to obey. The people were missing out on having true saving faith and a relationship with Jesus because they were judging according to false standards.

Reasons For Unbelief (7:25-36)

The people’s spiritual dullness continues. Some of people are confused as to why the Jewish authorities are not taking action against Jesus as he teaches in the temple. They begin to wonder whether this is truly the Christ. But that thought is quickly extinguished in verse 27 because they know Jesus is from Galilee and they believed that no one would know where the Christ would come from. This is an example of them judging on the basis of false standards. The scriptures did not indicated that the Christ would come from unknown origins. Here again is another obstacle to saving faith. They have another self-imposed barrier keeping them from seeing who Jesus truly is. So Jesus clarifies to yet again try to break through their spiritual dullness. Jesus says that he has not come on his own will but from the Father. The Father sent him and you do not know the Father. If you knew the Father, then you would know Jesus is the Christ. This has been a repeated message by Jesus through these chapters in John’s gospel. Jesus knows the Father, came from the Father, and was sent by the Father (7:29). But they want to arrest him rather than see him for who his is.

Jesus continues in verses 32-36 with the Pharisees who also do not believe. So Jesus speaks about “going to him who sent me.” Jesus says he is going to go back to the Father. But listen to the spiritual dullness of the people again. “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him?” So they are grumbling and disputing again over Jesus rather than listening to him.

John is painting a powerful picture that is intended to ask a question to our hearts. What keeps us from believing in and seeing Jesus as the bread of life? What is keeping us from having our will become doing his will and seeking his glory? Why are you deflecting God’s word? What is stopping you from coming to a life-changing relationship with Jesus? Do you think you have something more valuable than Jesus? Do you treasure something else in your life over the all-satisfying Jesus? What is holding us back?

If Anyone Thirsts, Let Him Come To Me and Drink (7:37)

The thirsty need to come to Jesus. The text points out to us that it is the last day of the feast. On each of the seven days prior to the final day, priests drew water from the Pool of Siloam and carried a golden pitcher full of water to the temple and then around the altar. As the priests neared the water gate, the shofar was blown, and then the psalms of praise and thanksgiving were sung to God for the harvest (Borchert, New American Commentary). This water pouring was a reminder of the Lord’s provision of water in the desert and the Lord’s pouring out the Spirit in the last days. The pouring of water at the Feast of Tabernacles referred symbolically to the messianic age in which a stream from the sacred rock would flow over the whole earth (Carson, Pillar New Testament Commentary). Since the feast came in the fall, after a dry summer, the feast also included prayers to God for rain on the land. With these things in mind, consider the power of Jesus’ words on the last day of the feast, standing up and crying out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” Jesus is claiming to be the fulfillment of all the symbolism and hope found in the Feast of Tabernacles.

This is an important truth. When you go without God, your soul gets thirsty. You were made to be with God. We often do not recognize that this is what we are thirsting. We think it is for a better job, or a better spouse, or better parents, or something else that could be better in your life. You are thirsting for God and you have to recognize this truth so that you will come to him. Just as your body was made for water so your soul was made for God. We spend so much time trying to satisfy our thirst in the wrong ways (cf. Jeremiah 2:13). Jesus is what satisfies the soul.

Out of His Heart Will Flow Rivers of Living Water (7:38-39)

Now, here is what is amazing. Look at what we receive when we believe in Jesus. “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (7:38). There is constant satisfaction in Jesus. It is not a single drink, only to be let back out into the desert of this world with an ever increasing thirst. You don’t have to look for more water later. The water will flow from your own heart when you believe in Jesus. Jesus is a perpetual fountain for your soul. Notice where the basis of the rivers of living water flows. What is the source? The source is your heart. Has this not been the entire message of this gospel? God wants your heart. You cannot come to Christ for salvation until your heart has been radically transformed. The transformation of the heart is what true belief looks like. If the heart has not been changed, then that person does not believe and does not have life. The changed heart will drive our lives toward righteous living. This is what Ezekiel prophesied when he declared that God would put in his people a new heart that was not a heart of stone but a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). Jeremiah prophesied that God would write his law on the people’s hearts, thus making them his people and he will be their God (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Coming to Jesus is not merely changing some external habits. It is not that now you come to church and stop swearing. Coming to Jesus and drinking is to see Jesus as the satisfaction of your thirst. Coming to Jesus is opening your heart to his teaching, letting his words change your mind, your heart, your values, your attitude, your personality, your thinking, and your way of life. Coming to Jesus is to make our will to do the will of God. Coming to Jesus is to seek God’s glory, not our own. But look at what Jesus is offering. Jesus will perpetually and continually quench your thirst. Jesus is the answer for your life. Open your heart to him and let him be your everything.

In verse 39 the author interjects with an explanation. Jesus said this about the Spirit that those who would believe in him would receive. But they had not received the Spirit yet because Jesus was not yet glorified. The reference to the Spirit cannot be speaking about miraculous spiritual gifts because not all believers would receive this (as seen in Acts 8:16-17; 1 Corinthians 12-14). But Acts 2:38 is the perfect answer. After the death and the resurrection of Christ, we read the apostles preaching that anyone who repented and was baptized would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. A deeper explanation of this is outside the scope of this lesson. But I would refer you to my material on the Holy Spirit for a full explanation as well as the series of lessons I did on the Holy Spirit back in 2007 ( The language is the same that Paul uses in Titus 3:5-6 speaking of the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us richly. The prophets pictured the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on all flesh as the renewal and restoration of the people’s relationship to God, renewal of a new covenant with them that would forgive their sins, the restoration of the kingdom of God where all races could enter, and the renewal of God’s blessings upon the earth. But none of this could happen until Jesus was glorified, which is a beautiful way to depict his going to the cross in John’s gospel.

Same Dead Hearts (7:40-52)

After this offer, notice the same responses from the people. Some perk up and think that Jesus is the prophet that Moses spoke about who was to come. Some recognize Jesus to be the Christ. But some find yet another reason to reject him. So they try to arrest him. When the officers went to arrest Jesus, they realized something very important. The officers come back to the Jewish leaders without Jesus being arrested. They demand to know why. The officers respond, “No one ever spoke like this man!” The reason why is that Jesus’ words are life. I want to challenge you to let the words of Christ enter your heart and change you so that you can experience new life. Let Christ be your everything.

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